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Mon, Aug 22, 2011

Barnstorming: 'A Daisy A Day'

Living Life, Flying High, Cherishing My Memories Of Oshkosh

He remembers the first time he met her, He remembers the first thing she said;
He remembers the first time he held her, And the night that she came to his bed.
He remembers her sweet way of sayin', Honey, has something gone wrong?
He remembers the fun and the teasin', And the reason he wrote her this song.

I'll give you a daisy a day, dear, I'll give you a daisy a day;
I'll love you until the rivers run still, And the four winds we know blow away.

-- (Jud Strunk, 1973)

For a number of years, Oshkosh has commenced (for me) over a week ahead of the official start date. I work my way up there some 9-10 days ahead of time, get things organized, get the ANN mobile office placed, the power set up, the office and video gear installed, and the high-speed access started. And then I start on other items that need to be prepped... stories that need to be written, early arrivals that need to be interviewed, and a hundred other tasks that grab me by the neck, shake me around a bit and will not let me go until we're ready to pack it all up and head out... til the next year.

For the week ahead of it all, I find it to be an incredibly peaceful place and while I may be in ANN's HQ building as late as 2 or 3 in the morning getting work done in the blissful peace and quiet, I can't get enough of just getting out, walking around, and reviewing the thousands of memories that have taken place here, in my life, some 39 Oshkosh's so far. 

There are so many memories... but these days, its hard to string together more than a few of them without including the thoughts of a little blond imp that turned my life upside down... long before I showed her how to do the same -- at least by airplane. The first night in, this year, I walked the whole length of the field...all the way down to what was once the site of much of Oshkosh's greatest appeal... the lightplane area... There was a time in year's past, when most of my week was spent there... but in light of the near-demise of much of sport and ultralight aviation... now, not so much. I remember flying in there, in 1981, leading a flight of ultralights after flying all the way from California... to find Paul Poberezny waiting for me, just as he agreed to do... enveloping me in a bear hug and offering congrats for one of the slowest trips to Wittman Field he could imagine.

It is a place of so many friendships... so many memories, so many crazy little events, but its also where I learned how much a guy can care for someone else... and it came in one of the usual ways... 

I got stupid, a very small tiff started, I hurt Vicki's feelings, and I caused her the first tears I'd ever seen from her. Those tears crushed me -- it was our first 'fight' -- not a big one, mind you, but one that was silly and ridiculous (like so many of them are) and so inconsequential that the actual reason eludes me to this day... but not the effect.

It seems a million years ago... but was actually a few months into my courtship of the beautiful little girl that remains the love of my life. Nearly twenty years ago, Vicki came to Oshkosh for her very first time and shared in the sights and sounds that had drawn me there every year since my mid-teens.  

The spat lasted but a few moments and occurred within minutes of the time that Vic was scheduled head home to Florida to go back to work... but instead, for some unfathomable reason, she decided to stay the rest of the week after I'd been such a jerk... and it became some of the best days of my life... for no other particular reason than I got to tread the paths and walkways of Oshkosh, hand in hand, with a girl I had finally realized (that very week) would be a part of my life... forever.

As soon as we got back to the house we stayed in, at Oshkosh, I ducked out for a half hour and came back with a single simple daisy... and thereupon I told her how much of an idiot I was -- and thus learned one of the great lessons of loving someone... having disagreements can be hell... but making up, afterwards, can be heaven. And whenever I could, even when I was behaving myself and didn't have a reason to apologize (and yeah, I did have need of that a lot), it was a single simple flower... a daisy, a rose, a lily, a sunflower, what have you... that became my way of telling her that she was always in my thoughts... There were a lot flowers in our time together.

And it was thoughts like those that inhabited my cluttered cranium every evening and each morning that I walked the hallowed grounds of Wittman Field before the onslaught of aero-humanity laid claim to the holy real estate of 'The Big O.' Thoughts of a beautiful little girl that was in my life for too short a time, who went on to conquer the world in her own fashion, and was taken from all of us far too soon... but not before we'd talked and laughed and remembered how to be friends. And as I walked, for a few precious seconds at a time, I swear I could feel her hand in mine... and all was right with my world.

Oshkosh was and is firmly entrenched as a pivotal place in our lives... both in the life that she shared with me, and the life she led up to her loss at World Aerobatic Championships in 2009... two years ago, today.

I miss her.

I miss her with a power and intensity that has not diminished the tiniest bit in the emotional eons that have transpired since my life changed and the world became a colder, crueler place with her passing. But life can still be OK, even good... both in terms of the things that still delight me, the important mission I lead in life, and the gentle thoughts of someone who enriches my memories with every moment of every day... and that's how close she always is to my thoughts... even now.

But Oshkosh 2011 helped me heal just a little bit more... a process that I now understand will continue all my life until the day, when I truly believe, I will see her again.

On one of my early morning walks I noted a bit of a fuss by the International Aerobatic Club building... where a truck was loading a heavy granite marker in a prominent location in front of the building. I watched it off-loaded carefully to the ground, and came to see the inscription upon it... with Vicki's name in bold letters across the top. A small metal sculpture, an aircraft in flight executing a maneuver, adorned the top and left me stunned. As I came to find out, Vic's friends... people who had loved her and respected her, people who were (mostly) not a part of the life we'd led in the years prior to her becoming prominent in the aerobatic world, had designed, and made this happen... so that there would be one more way that the world would not and could not forget her. It was a beautiful lovely thing... and every morning thereafter, I would walk past very early in the day, and leave her a flower, or a few blooms of the type I know she liked (daisies when I could find them), and walk on... healing a little bit and knowing that somehow, somewhere, the little imp that changed my life so incontrovertibly could see that I hadn't forgotten her and was still living my life as well and powerfully as I could manage. And best of all... that I wasn't the only one thinking of her...

And in no uncertain terms, it has become one more way in which Oshkosh will have a place in my life forever.

On the morning I left OSH2011, I was surprised to see that some of the flowers that I had left each day before were still in place, and despite the weather and other disturbances, had not been all blown away... because some lovely soul had anchored the last batch of blooms in a weighted IAC cup so that they'd have a chance to stick around for a while... and while I have no idea who that was... I thank you.

I stood for a few short moments, spent a little time thinking of better times, and left a few more flowers (no daisies this time... though I sure tried to find some... but I think she'd have liked what I left), and walked away whistling part of the tune that I'd clumsily sung to her the day I brought her that very first daisy... a lovely old tune from 1973 by Jud Strunk, entitled 'A Daisy A Day.'

I'll give you a daisy a day, dear, I'll give you a daisy a day;
I'll love you until the rivers run still, And the four winds we know blow away.

And with that, I headed back to my plane, loaded up for the flight home and looked forward to finding a better supply of daisies for Oshkosh 2012... and as long as I live and can still make the trek to the IAC building, it will be my first duty each day from here on out, at each Oshkosh, to let her know how much I miss her, until God lets me do it for myself.

Love does that to you... and, despite the crushing sadness of her loss, that's still a beautiful thing, indeed.

Now he walks down the street in the evenin', And he stops by the old candy store;
And I somehow believe he's believin', He's holdin' her hand like before.
For he feels all her love walking with him, And he smiles at the things she might say;
Then the old man walks up to the hilltop, And he gives her a daisy a day.

God Bless You All...

Jim Campbell, Vicki's Husband... Once Upon A Time

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